Know the Rules
The NCAA is continually increasing academic standards for core course requirements, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores. Ideally, begin to plan during your freshman year to select the appropriate courses, including AP classes and core coursework, especially science lab classes.
It’s advantageous to take at least one AP (or IB) class to better prepare for the college level and to show you have the potential to be successful at a higher academic level. Start preparing for the SAT/ACT in your sophomore year.
Tell your high school counselor and club director/coach you want to play college soccer!
Be an NCAA Qualifier and register with the Eligibility Center in the fall of your junior year. Check out ncaa.org for recruiting rules and contact periods. Take care of business and earn the best grades you can –hopefully a 3.5 or better to create more recruiting options.
Depending upon the high school academic reputation, a GPA lower than 3.5 causes concern for those elite schools. Playing high school soccer as well as club soccer gives students (especially the average club players) additional opportunities to serve as leaders and learn valuable skills (and resume building) in preparation for college.
Consider Athletics, Academics & Lifestyle
Consider where you fit athletically and where you can play.
There are different recruiting and scholarship rules for the different athletic NCAA Divisions I, II, III, and NAIA, and also other athletic associations. NCAA regulates training and game schedules and DI athletes train as much as they play. DI athletes are stronger, faster, and healthier, and share a common competitive mentality .
DI athletics have an extreme athletic focus. Seek feedback from your club coach to determine your best soccer fit. Learn how to confidently but honestly compare yourself against your peers. At tournaments, ask college coaches how you may fit in and ask where you would fit in on the depth chart (especially if you are a goalie). Ask your club alumni players and parents what they learned. College coaches identify and make contact with blue chip athletes (the highly desirable recruited athletes) early through club coaches and all other athletes must initiate contact with college coaches. By the way, recruited walk-ons are common, yet very few play soccer after their freshman year. Those athletes have one more chance to play college soccer and what they make of it – is up to them.
Consider your education and career goals and where you fit academically.
Is your goal to attend an elite school with the strongest reputation in your field of study (or major)? About 20% of schools are academically elite with an extreme academic focus, and thus very competitive to gain admission, while other schools are less competitive to gain entrance. The elite schools expect you to be successful based on your high school academic preparation and potential.
Check if schools have your desired major unless you don’t know what you want to study. Also, DI coaches proctor many tests for their athletes while on road trips. To satisfy a DI commitment of training year around, soccer players may not study abroad until spring of their senior year while DIII athletes may study abroad in the spring of their junior year.
Go to collegeboard.com to see individual schools’ entrance percentages, admission requirements and scores of average freshmen. Also, The Fiske Guide to Colleges provides reliable insights into most colleges across the nation. While you must meet each specific college entrance requirements, many coaches can help you get in by tagging your application as long as you meet minimum admission requirements. Earning a 3.5 or higher makes it easier for coaches to recruit you. (DI schools must uphold APR scores of all student-athletes on partial or full athletic scholarships.)
Consider your desired lifestyle.
Reflect on what you want from college soccer. What role will soccer play for you – will you use your club soccer experience to help gain admission to a prestigious college or university or is your goal to be a starter, key player, and travel with the team? Or would you be happy being a role player or a practice player? Will you use soccer to help pay for college? What lifestyle and level of competition and commitment is a fit for you? Do you want to play at the highest DI level where you are committed to intense soccer training, competition, and travel year around as well as attending classes and studying for perhaps rigorous academic classes? Or will you want to really focus on academics (and experience a more varied social life) playing DIII competitive soccer in season with no athletic scholarships and more local competition, traveling locally or regionally. And consider the quarter academic schedule where half the season is over before school starts.
DI student-athletes are committed to academics and athletics year around. DI soccer is like a typical club experience where you really have to juggle your academic and social life around soccer because DI is high priority. Successful DI student-athletes share a common mentality and are academically gifted and highly organized. Engineer students may live with engineer students rather than soccer teammates because it is best for studying together and sharing notes. You will choose a lifestyle that is different from regular students as you are student-athletes. It’s extreme to be really committed to really making a student-athlete soccer experience work. A good analogy is high school soccer is to DIII as club soccer is to DI. DI soccer athletes train year long, do extreme running, and take soccer very seriously. If you are mature and can maintain a reasonable social life, you can do it all. Reflect on your core values.
Market Yourself: Connect with College Coaches
July is the heaviest recruiting month and recruiting is happening earlier and earlier as some girls start emailing coaches in 7th grade and many elite female players verbally commits their sophomore year. Boys are a bit later. Soccer players are committing early to relieve the stress of recruiting and to gain an extra year of college academic advising and the bonus of getting to know the soccer program and the campus. All need to complete college soccer questionnaires by their soph year.
It’s really important to contact college coaches via email.
Since technology makes communication easy, college coaches expect student-athletes to initiate contact with an email. If you are not electronically literate and sophisticated, you probably need a recruiting service to help. Send a brief email stating who you are and why you’re interested in that specific soccer program and that college in particular.
Don’t send out mass form emails and get the coaches’ names and schools correct. Email the head coach and the assistants so the entire staff knows who you are. Also, attach a student-athlete profile with both athletic and academic achievements, especially your GPA, SAT scores/test date and your age/graduation year along with a You Tube video link with 3-5 minutes of soccer skills/playing highlights.
Keep the coaches updated with tournament and game schedules. Get seen at club tournaments as there are many tournament and league opportunities in addition to the elite Surf Cup, Las Vegas, Disney Florida, and Houston events. If you are finding it difficult to get seen (especially by those college programs with small recruiting budgets), attend two ID camps and college summer camps, specifically the ones where you want to attend college.
When within NCAA soccer recruiting rules, approach and talk to coaches while at tournaments. Follow up all communications. If coaches don’t respond, use the dating scene guidelines to find the balance between coaches who are really busy and just haven’t had the chance to get back to you and those who aren’t interested in you. Be persistent, but not obnoxious. Initiate and be respectful. A general recruiting rule is: recruit them as much as you would want to be recruited.
Make as many unofficial visits as possible as you will become savvier about the recruiting process. You’ll almost definitely get a positive or negative feeling during an actual visit than by reading a brochure. If possible, attend college classes, soccer practices, and games. Many official visits happen in October of your senior year.
There are two categories of athletic scholarships: equivalency and head count sports; soccer is an equivalency sport with 14 fully funded women’s scholarships and 9.9 men’s. The big money positions are down the middle: Goal Keeper, Center Back, Center Midfielder, or a fast Forward. It’s based on both what you bring and what the team needs.
While full-ride soccer scholarships are rare, there are lots of partial scholarships for books and tuition. In some cases, 30-50% is reasonable and few athletes have 60-75% rides. Getting half of your education paid for is awesome and packages can be structured where it’s the same money each year or the amount is less and increases each year – in the end the scholarship is the same amount. Also, athletes can earn academic “merit” scholarships instead of or in addition to partial athletic money. Some coaches are able to work with financial aid officers to get the most money they can for you and your family.
DIII programs don’t offer athletic scholarships. However, DIII schools offer academic scholarships and many times schools need a goalie or forward or midfielder with a high GPA, high SAT/ACT scores, rigorous coursework including AP classes, and a high class rank. These student-athletes receive academic money because they will be valuable assets to the school and to, for example, the soccer program specifically. Many financial aid packages combine merit scholarship money, work-study programs, and financial aid.
By the way, check out your College & Career Center as there are thousands of other scholarships from public and private organizations very specific to individual talents, backgrounds and experiences –and you just may be the right fit. There are more soccer scholarship opportunities for women than men and you want the best deal –however, consider the atmosphere, desired major, program core values, and reputation of the school.
Go after it. Make it happen. It’s up to you.
The experience of college athletics last a lifetime. The friendships and connections you make in this arena will have value that can’t be experienced in the academic setting. There’s nothing like it: it’s demanding, consuming, and absolutely fantastic and there is no better place to be an athlete because it’s the time in your life where you are surrounded by same age peers sharing core values and the love of soccer. Do your research, be honest about your talent and commitment and be respectful of coaches and the recruiting process. Be mature and reasonable; be mindful about the academic and athletic fit!
–Linda Luther Dickson, Teacher, Coach, and Author
Linda is the author of, The Academic Athlete, a concise yet comprehensive guide and a planner for any high school student-athlete in today’s competitive world of high school sports and college admission. For information about the book and Linda’s bio can be found at dcipress.com.